The run into the hilly finale of Stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse was a nervy one, with several crashes in the peloton seeing riders hit the deck picking themselves up and limping into the finish in Pffafnau.
A succession of steep climbs in the final kilometres provoked a number of attacks with a surge from van der Poel being countered by Julian Alaphilippe over the final classified climb of Rütsch, with the Frenchman descending away on his own to maintain a brief solo move, before he was swept up by a reformed but depleted peloton.
More attacking followed, with the most long-lived effort a solo one, coming from Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar). The Spaniard’s attack got out to a lead of 17 seconds in the final kilometres, but he was eventually brought back beneath the flamme rouge as the remaining sprinters prepared for the uphill incline to the finish.
Deceuninck-Quickstep brought Julian Alaphilippe to the front but with 250 metres to go it was van der Poel who hit out first with Australian Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) following in his slipstream. Alaphillipe came across to fight for van der Poel's wheel, making Matthews baulk at the critical moment, and van der Poel was free with some lengths lead as Matthews had to stop and then restart pedalling.
Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) came through with momentum, but there was to be no catching van der Poel, who won comfortably to continue cementing his legend at the Tour de Suisse with his second consecutive stage win. Laporte finished second with Alaphilippe grinding it out for third with Matthews fourth.
With the stage win, van der Poel moved into the race lead, taking the jersey from Stage 1 winner Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) who slipped to third overall with Alaphilippe sandwiched in between.
“I had a good day again and I wanted to make the race hard. Like yesterday on the final climb but it was still around 30-40 guys,” said Van der Poel. “I saw the sprint the first time around the finish and I saw that it suited me quite well so I went for that.”
“I’ll defend the lead for as long as possible, maybe, but it will be difficult. Maybe tomorrow is an opportunity still, but in the mountains it’s too hard for me. Tomorrow is kind of similar to these last two days but for sure they won’t make it easy. Today wasn’t easy. We had to do a really big effort with the whole team and again it was impressive again from them. Tomorrow, maybe it’s possible. Someone has to win so maybe it’s me.”
Van der Poel is racing the Tour de Suisse in preparation for his two big objectives of the 2021, the Tour de France and the mountain bike event at the Tokyo Olympics.
Every moment of the 2021 Tour de France will be live on SBS, with the ŠKODA Tour Tracker app, SBS TV and the SBS Cycling Central the place to be to catch all the pulsating action from France from June 26 to July 18.